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The U.S. Congress has given its final approval to legislation extending benefits to elderly and disabled immigrants.

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the United Jewish Communities are lauding Wednesday’s House passage of the SSI Extension for Elderly and Disabled Refugees Act. The bill, sponsored by U.S. Reps. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and Jerry Weller (R-Ill.), lengthens the amount of time elderly and disabled legal immigrants — including Jewish refugees from the former Soviet Union — can receive Social Security Income benefits. It extends the benefits from seven to nine years, and provides individuals whose applications for U.S. citizenship are pending one additional year of benefits.

HIAS said the two-year extension will help the approximately 30,000 elderly and disabled refugees who have already been cut off from benefits due to the previous seven-year limit, as well as more than 19,000 others who were projected to lose benefits in the coming years.

“This legislation,” said Gideon Aronoff, president and CEO of HIAS, “will provide a lifeline to so many who are destitute and suffering.”

The bill now awaits the signature of President Bush.

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